Have you heard of the Pixar formula?
Apparently, any story that is to be developed by the massively successful movie studio Pixar must follow a simple but incredibly effective formula. The formula is just six sentence starters:
1. Once upon a time……
2. Every day….
3. One day….
4. Because of that…..
5. Because of that….
I recently read about this on Mike Fleetham’s excellent Thinking Classroom website and decided to introduce it to my Year 2 class. I began by showing how the Pixar formula applied to Finding Nemo and Toy Story. After this, I took a few ideas from the class and we began piecing our own 6-part narratives together.
Once the children had seen the process modelled a few times, I sent them off in pairs to discuss and then write down (just on whiteboards) a story, using the Pixar formula as a guide. The hard parts are steps 4 and 5, so I gave pairs the option of either completely skipping these steps, just including one of these steps or using both steps as part of the full Pixar formula if they were feeling really confident.
After time to create and write their stories on whiteboards, the children were given the opportunity to walk around and read other stories and discuss what they had written with other pupils. The story ideas were absolutely brilliant and VERY creative, plus the fact that this is something that a real company like Pixar does seemed to motivate the class greatly.
After having had the children create ideas as a class and in pairs, I gave another lesson over to the children progressing to formally writing up their Pixar stories on paper individually. They were allowed to use elements or even all of the ideas that they had created in pairs if they liked, though most of my class seemed to enjoy having the opportunity to start over and include elements borrowed from the other narratives they’d had chance to read earlier in the day.
I made 4-way differentiated story sheets for the independent writing:
-Base Camp: The child writes a simplified 4-step version of the Pixar formula (one sentence per step) and draws a picture to go with each step.
-Hill Climber: The child writes a simplified 4-step version of the Pixar formula, but there is space for more to be written per step. When finished, the child draws a picture of their favourite part of the story.
-Mountaineer: The child writes a 5-step version of the Pixar formula which includes a ‘Because of that….’ step.
-Everest: The child writes using the full 6-step Pixar formula, including two ‘Because of that….’ steps.
NOTE: As a resource to aid creativity I printed out an ‘Inspiration Sheet’ per pair which they could look at when trying to think of their own ideas. The sheet has fun pictures and a few interesting scenarios to try and spark off story ideas.
TIP: I found this lesson works well for showing the value of adjectives /expanded noun phrases / superlatives for making characters more interesting and adding to the plot. For example: “He’s not just someone who works in KFC, he’s the best employee they’ve ever had! Can you think what he might do that makes him so good?? He gets every order right at the drive-thru in super quick time! So what do we think might happen in our ‘One day’ part of the story? He makes a mistake and gets two orders from two different families totally mixed up!”
TIP: This lesson could perhaps work well as a ‘one in the bank’ lesson, stored and ready to be used by a supply/cover teacher? I imagine it would also work quite well as a ‘standalone’ lesson or short series of lessons lasting a week, placed between larger units of work?
TIP: After teaching the Pixar formula, I’ve found having the children orally create further narratives in pairs works as a good short activity to get the creative juices flowing at the beginning of English lessons.